Fast Food Chain Will Use Underground Robots To Deliver Orders In Parking Lot
Justin Sullivan via Getty Images

Wendy’s announced on Thursday that the company will test a robotic system to deliver orders underground from its kitchens to distinct parking spots outside of its restaurants, a move which comes as the food services sector turns toward automation in response to labor shortages.

The firm will partner with hyperlogistics company Pipedream, which created a system through which entities such as restaurants, retailers, grocery stores, and warehouses can immediately transport goods to waiting customers in order to streamline digital pickups. The technology, which the company plans to implement in an existing location later this year, will connect to the kitchen and transport orders underground with a robot to portals in the parking lot outside of the restaurant.

“We know that serving orders quickly and accurately leads to increased customer satisfaction,” Wendy’s COO Deepak Ajmani said in a press release. “Pipedream’s Instant Pickup system has the potential to unlock greater mobile order speed of service and accuracy, enabling us to consistently deliver hot and fresh Wendy’s products to our fans.”

Wendy’s added that customers will not have to leave their cars in order to receive their food, significantly increasing efficiency for restaurant workers.

“We’re proud to partner with an iconic, innovative brand like Wendy’s to bring the future of mobile order pick-up to the quick service industry,” Pipedream CEO Garrett McCurrach said in the release. “By solving order handoff, the final leg of the digital experience, our Instant Pickup technology allows Wendy’s restaurant team members to focus on what matters: serving delicious, high-quality food and connecting with customers in this digital-first world.”

The move from Wendy’s comes as labor shortages persist after the lockdown-induced recession: there are nearly two open positions for every unemployed individual in the United States, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, increasing costs for businesses and contributing to inflation as companies hike wages to attract and retain employees.

Other quick service restaurants have turned toward artificial intelligence to increase operational efficiency in light of the worker shortages. Fast food chains Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s announced earlier this month that the brands would use an AI voice ordering platform developed by OpenCity in their drive-thru systems at select locations across the country, a move which is expected to increase “order accuracy” and cause “significant impact to labor efficiencies.”

Customers who arrive at drive-thru lines can place their orders through a “digital interaction” with the system before they pay an employee for their meal, likewise allowing workers to “focus more on providing better customer service and preparing timely and freshly made orders.”


McDonald’s has partnered with IBM to automate drive-thrus and unveiled voice-ordering technology at multiple Chicago restaurants two years ago after purchasing several AI startups, while Chipotle introduced a robotic chip machine in California after state lawmakers passed a bill to create a council with authority to raise fast food minimum wages.

Broader debate over AI and automation largely centers on the potential labor market impacts from the nascent technology. Even as some analysts forecast that the sector could eliminate as many as 7% of positions in the United States, others note that the systems render individual workers considerably more productive, implying avenues for economic growth and more opportunities for creative work as rote elements within many professions are automated.

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